Thursday, 9 February 2006
Therapeutic Goods Amendment (Repeal of Ministerial Responsibility for Approval of Ru486) Bill 2005
I want to make a contribution to this debate and support the amendment which Senator Barnett and I have moved. There has been comment in the second reading debate already about the choice that senators are being asked to make between a decision by the Therapeutic Goods Administration on the one hand, about whether this drug should be available in Australia, and a decision on the other hand by the minister for health—this individual who is supposed to make a decision in splendid isolation from those around him.
I suggested in my remarks the other day that that was a false dichotomy—that, in fact, no minister makes such a decision in isolation. However, it is clear from the remarks made by many in the course of this debate that some have been influenced by the suggestion that a decision by the minister for health, under the present arrangements, amounts to a decision by a single individual divorced from the sentiment or mood of the elected representatives of the federal parliament.
Let us therefore clarify that that is not what ought to continue. I have argued, as have most of the people against this legislation, that there needs to be parliamentary oversight of this process, that the decision to allow the use of this drug, RU486—or any other chemical abortifacient—in this country is a big decision, a momentous decision, and any other momentous decision made by and on behalf of the Australian community is made, not by unelected officials, but by the elected representatives of the Australian community. And that is why this amendment addresses that point and provides for a direct parliamentary vote on whether RU486 should be used in Australia.
It does not avoid the capacity for the Therapeutic Goods Administration to consider the efficacy and safety of the drug at another point in process. It does not exclude that capacity, but it provides, in addition to that process, for there to be parliamentary oversight and a parliamentary vote.
It is a big question of our day. It is an issue on which the Australian people in very large numbers have turned to us with their opinions. We owe it to them to hear what they have to say, understand and contemplate the issues they raise and then cast a vote based on the things we understand they say and our own particular judgments about the matters at hand. We owe that to the Australian people. That is our obligation as members of the federal parliament. For that reason we should support this amendment.